Last semester, myself and a couple of other students (Matt Auerbach, Guy Aridor) set out to build BURoomSwap, a website we thought could help those on our college campus who were looking to switch to a new dorm if they didn’t like where they were living or weren’t getting along with their roommate.
The BU process for swapping involves going to housing, filling out a card with your information and then flipping through a binder of countless others looking for a new living arrangement. And if that seems like enough, you can also put up a card at each dorm you’re interested in switching into.
This archaic process is a pain in the ass – I know from first hand experience of having to go to the housing office and the dorms multiple times to re-check the binder for new postings.
Our solution was a simple website where you post where you currently live and where you want to live. From there we easily match you to someone who wants what you have and you can chose to propose swapping with them or not. Simple. Easy. Solves the problem.
We weren’t really sure if people would use the site or not, but with over 300 submissions (and a solid number of room accepts) in only a couple of weeks, we know we’ve probably done a better job then what’s currently available.
A few of things I learned while building it that I think are helpful to other students interested in entrepreneurship:
- You don’t have to build the next big thing to learn about being entrepreneurial. We didn’t set out to build a business. We just set out to solve a problem. It is a small problem, but it’s still a problem and one we felt we could fix. Working on this small venture though still taught us a lot about building something from scratch, working with others who had complimentary skills, and trying to get someone to use something they don’t necessarily have to.
- You don’t have to be technical to be a product manager, but you do have to understand product and what’s technically possible. Well, the truth is, there are certain times where you do have to be technical in order to be a product manager. But in many cases, as long as you understand product and get the ramifications of what is and isn’t technically possible, you can still act as a product manager. Even though I can’t code (I’m learning…), my ability to wireframe and come up with user flow as well as managing conflicts and building out a timeline were integral to the site being built.
- It’s awesome working with others who have different skills. I can’t even describe how great it was to work with others who were technical. It was also a great way to see if I’d want to work with these people again. (My answer: Yes. Their answer: I don’t know, but I hope so!)
- Just ship it. I was waiting for the perfect time to release the product. Instead we just decided to promote it on a random Sunday at 5pm. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think anybody was going to use the site or find value in it. Instead, what we got were over 150 users and over 300 proposals. Also, the praise — people were actually thanking us for building this.
- If people are requesting a feature, that’s a good thing. One of the ways we knew we had a built a site people wanted was when we got requests to add group swapping (the ability to swap with your roommate). We had actually been debating the feature prior to launching but chose to ignore adding it — we didn’t think it was worth the time until we saw people would use the site. Surprising to us, we got tons of emails from people asking how they could propose group swaps with their roommates. Although we could have looked at neglecting this feature as a mistake, we saw it as a testament to our belief we were solving a problem.
Although it won’t be the next Facebook, BURoomSwap was a fun exercise in learning to not only build, but work with a team. Needless to say, I’m excited to work on our next project together.